Friday, 25 May 2012

What Bowling Balls and Aliens Have in Common

Cake Pops

Finally, it's time for my first try! Emily insisted she wanted these for her 7th birthday, and she was having a bowling party, so I thought- bowling balls should be easy! They should be..

As with all my first tries, it.. didn't glow with competency. But they were fun and delicious nonetheless. So I've put together a step by step guide. Take note- this is not a Sunday afternoon project, as most of my projects are. This is a solid 2 day project, as the pops need to be in the fridge for a significant amount of time (overnight is nice and doable). That's not strictly true- but the risks of using the freezer scared me too much.

We start by baking a cake. What I did was pretty much double my normal vanilla cupcake recipe, and make 2 cakes. The size doesn't really matter- just bake until they're golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Wait for them to cool. Crumble with your hands into small crumbs.

Make a small amount of butter icing- using maybe just 40 - 60 g of butter. What I do with butter icing is I just keep adding icing sugar until it becomes difficult to mix, then I add a bit of milk to make it easy to mix again. Careful not to make it too runny!

Now, add about 2 - 3 tablespoons icing into the cake crumbs- it should only be enough to make the cake crumbs stick to each other nicely so we can make balls.

Now, roll the dough into roughly 40 balls. They should be roughly 2-3 cm in diameter. Put them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

This sheet should be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated for 4 hours or overnight. Then, melt some chocolate. I like to use white chocolate, because I can colour it. In this case part of what went wrong was that I couldn't make the colour bright enough. In the states, where the pops were invented, they use Candy Melts, which are brighter and easier with which to work. Here we've gotta stick to chocolate, which means we have to be a little more creative. I melted white chocolate, and coloured it with chocolate colour marked 'Lime Green'- but it just didn't come out that way!

This is important- pour the chocolate into a container that isn't too wide but very deep, you need to be able to dip the whole pop into the liquid chocolate. Also- give the chocolate a chance to cool down for about 5 minutes. I think this has something to do with tempering, and it makes it easier to coat the pops.

Here's the method for coating the pops. First take the lolly pop stick, and dip it in the chocolate. Stick it into a cake ball. Dip it straight down into the chocolate, pull it our and let it drain a bit, and twist it slowly until it stops dripping. Remember to have a polystyrene block to stick the pops into! I also got some advice on putting the pops into individual sweet plastic bags- and tying them with a bow? Next time definitely!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Is Yoga Big in Germany?

Soft Pretzels

As much as I love the traditional Pretzel-shaped Pretzels, I had a serious craving to straight German Pretzels. Sadly, I didn't read the recipe title, and so made soft pretzels instead. They were delicious anyway! But back to the main point- would Germans be offended by straight Pretzels? Or happy that someone made a practical shape? I'm sure this is related to how much they love Yoga.. 

Two things led to these pretzels: Alton Brown and the awesome guy that works with Ralph and looks like a beaver. I'm going to start with Ralph's colleague. After a couple of drinks he can be convinced to imitate a beaver. This is all we look for in a friend. On Saturdays our beaver man makes really delicious burgers at the Neighbor Goods Market. This market is... The best way to describe it would be like a land at the top of The Faraway Tree, a land that has intoxicatingly delicious food, but not just any food.. Food made with the right ingredients, fresh ingredients, made with love and, just as importantly: skill. The currywurst we had was spectacular, as was the pretzel that came with it, and the lemon meringue cupcake made ALL my nerve endings tingle with sour. I'm determined to recreate all of these dishes!!

As for Alton Brown - I have a new useless passion in life- Iron Chef. I've watched so much of it lately that I feel like Alton Brown and Michael Symon actually live with me.. Except for the absolutely mindblowing food that would exist if they did..

So naturally I found a recipe that Alton Brown had posted for pretzels, and wasted no time in making them! I love this trick of boiling the pretzels in bicarb to give them that gorgeous brown colour! Next on my list will definitely be pretzel dogs by Joy The Baker.

Soft Pretzels
from Alton Brown

1 1/2 cups warm water (midway between lukewarm and hot)
1 tblsp sugar
2 tsp salt
7 g packet dry yeast
624 g cake flour
57 g butter, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup bicarbonate of soda
1 extra-large egg yolk beaten with 1 tblsp water
Course salt

1) Add sugar, salt and yeast to warm water in a large bowl, and allow to stand for about 5 minutes- until it begins foaming.
2) Add flour and butter to the mixture, and knead with dough hook attachments on a mixer. Keep kneading until the dough becomes smooth and stops sticking to the sides of the pan. This should take less than 5 minutes.
3) Take the dough out of the bowl, wash it, and coat it with oil. Put the dough back, cover with clingwrap, and leave to rise in a warm place for just less than an hour, until it doubles in size.
4) Preheat oven to 230 C, and either just grease two large cookie sheets, or layer them with silicone mats. DO NOT use wax paper- the pretzels will soak them and stick to them!
5) Take a medium sized pot, and add the water and bicarb. Bring to the boil.
6) Now, cut the dough up into about 16 equal pieces, each rolled out to make a 10- 15 cm rope.
7) Boil each rope in the water, by itself, for 30 seconds. Taking them out is a bit tricky, but you get the hang of it. I used the biggest spatula I could find.
8) Spread egg yolk mixture on boiled pretzels, and sprinkle with course salt.
9) Bake until they turn that gorgeous pretzel dark brown.

Because of my addiction to pickles, these pretzels were enjoyed in our home with Israeli cucumbers in brine. My absolute favourite. You might want to enjoy them with something more German?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

A French kind of Toast

Baked Creme French Toast

Happy mornings happen but twice a week. Ralph wakes up, roughly 2 hours before me. Our house is so tiny, that there's really nothing that he can do without waking me, except sit very still and be very quiet. Not only that, but when I do finally wake up- he does the best thing ever: he smiles. And sometimes he makes breakfast too. How awesome is that?! I do like to make a homely delicious breakfast though. When I'm busy in the kitchen, I feel like I'm slowing down time, extending the peace and happiness of the morning.

This was a particularly delicious morning. Weeks before I had found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen. But I never seemed to have the right ingredients around. This was the morning that everything came together- my mood, remembering to buy the ingredients, and finding the time to make the actual french toast. I should make clear how likely each of those conditions are: Very slim. This french toast is enough to convince me to make a change- with a little extra effort, we had such a happy morning.

I didn't quite do this recipe as required. I used french loaf instead of a proper white, and I had quite a bit of liquid left over. I've altered the recipe to make up for that. As usual, I don't have access to all of the correct ingredients- so I used what can get (cream instead of heavy cream, table salt instead of sea salt). Also, I didn't brulee them (which is why I use creme without brulee in the name)- I wasn't really interested, but there are instructions on how to do this in the original recipe. I'm not big on crunch, and rather enjoyed the gooey yummly things that this version created.

Baked Creme French Toast
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 french loaf
1 1/3 cups milk (I used 2%)
2/3 cup cream
4 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp orange essence
2 tsp vanilla extract

1) Slice loaf into thick 2-3 cm slices
2) Mix all ingredients except bread together in a large, deep and flat dish- but not bigger than will just fit all the bread. 
3) Preheat oven to 180 C
4) Place the bread, single layer, in the mixture to absorb. Turn over every 10 minutes or so, for about 30 minutes.
5) Now, take bread out, and place on a greased baking tray. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on how well done you like it. I took mine out when they turned golden, and they were still soft and gooey inside.
6) Serve and enjoy. Particularly good with golden syrup, but enjoyed above with home-made strawberry jam.

I can't overestimate how much I love ooey gooey french toast.. And the only place to really have it is at home sadly, because everywhere else, it's well done, no goo allowed. I know some people like their eggs well done, but do we all have to suffer?? 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Soft Giants

Giant Soft Iced Cookies

These are just such a nice treat.. I made them around Valentines day- and the batch was so big that I really got to share the love with family, neighbors and pretty much anyone else who wanted one!

It's strange to think to back then- even though it wasn't that long ago. Things were so happy and whole.. We had this sweet happy routine and I was in a daze of smiling and cooking.. Then my gran passed away, and it's hard to remember happy pink things now. 

If you've read some of the other posts in this blog, you'll know my gran really inspired my cooking. She didn't live in South Africa, but when she visited I would get her to teach me how to cook. It's been hard trying to think about cooking and baking when I keep picturing her soft tiny hands doing the things I'm doing, the way she used to scoop flour with a normal tablespoon, her sweet velvety voice calling me endearments.. Ralph tells me this is going to get easier. And it is getting there I guess.. I'm feeling more like cooking lately, because it makes me feel less sad and rather closer to her. 

These cookies are, in my opinion, great for beginner bakers. They are simple vanilla cookies with vanilla icing, and your choice of decoration. They are difficult to ruin and real crowd pleasers. The kids ate them really easily too!

Giant Soft Cookies
From Annie's Eats and Cook Like a Champion

563 g cake flour
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
340 g unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large free-range eggs
5 tsp vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 180 C
2) Combine and whisk flour, baking powder and salt
3) In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.
4) Add the eggs, one at a time, each time beating until fully incorporated.
5) Add the vanilla.
6) Add the dry ingredients, and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
7) Pleace large balls of dough (about a 1/4 cup) on greased baking trays. Flatten a bit. Leave room between cookies.
8) Bake for about 10 minutes, until they start browning on the outside edge.
9) Let them cook without moving them for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.
10) Ice with buttercream icing (Made of butter, icing sugar and milk- sample recipe can be found here)
11) Sprinkle with your favourite sprinkles!

My little secret is that I don't tend to like cookies much. But these were so soft.. Like cupcakes in a cookie shape. Really simple and lovely!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Raspberries and Lemons

Raspberry Cake

I've rediscovered Smitten Kitchen.. I don't know how I didn't get completely obsessed with it before, but I'm making up for it this time. I bought a large punnet of raspberries and was looking up recipes, and I found one there. I love these kinds of cakes- I think they're called dinner cakes or everyday cakes? They're delicious and not so exciting that you can't eat them whenever.

This cake was a huge hit with grown ups! I made it on Sunday night for the office, and again on Tuesday for the family with the rest of my raspberries! The kids.. They detected the hint of lemon zest.. I still have an image of Emily scraping the cake off her tongue in my head whenever I think about this cake. Sophie ate it happily it but first picked out all the raspberries- which is where Ralph stands too. I don't know what they're talking about.. I could easily eat this entire cake myself - it's got just the right balance of sour and sweet and the top of the cake gets slightly crunchy while the inside is soft and squishy with raspberries.. And it's SO easy to make!

I didn't change the Smitten Kitchen recipe here, so I won't rewrite it. You can find it here.

This is exactly the kind of cake that that perfect pretty woman with the pouffy skirt and heels and red lipstick at home serves after supper (this is how I like to picture myself, though I'm mostly in pyjamas, barefoot and my lips tend to be covered in stolen cookie crumbs..). Because she wants to make dessert for a normal weekday supper, just because she's that awesome :-).

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Spaghetti Monsters

Pasta in Viennas for Kids

I've missed this blog!! I've been away for almost 3 months now? Wow it's been a long 3 months. But before we get to that, let's talk about Sophie. Sophie is a picky eater, and a picky everything else. Her being one of my favourite people in the whole world though, I'm determined to please. I wanna say these did the trick.. In all honesty, she did say 'yuck' between bites- but she finished it all!

And yes, this is super fancy kiddies food. You can see tomato sauce, mayonnaise AND the mysterious pink sauce there.  Haute cuisine indeed.

The past 3 months have been the most eventful of my whole life. Funnily the best and worst days of my life have occurred within a month of each other. Let's start with the best? OK! On Valentines Day, after   the best day EVER -  Ralph asked me to marry him!! Of course I said yes :-) and have since been dreamily planning our wonderful day. In about a year, Ralph will become Mr. Kitchen Treats!!

I've been cooking and baking since, but I think I just couldn't find the time to photograph and document it all. I'm back though- and excited!!

Pasta in Viennas for Kids

1-2 Viennas (I got nice German viennas from a butchery- and they went down well!)
package of dry spaghetti

1) Slice the viennas into chunks 1-1.5 cm each.
2) Break the spaghetti strands so that they will fit in your pot. Stick spaghetti through the vienna chunks- about 5- 8 per piece.
3) Cook as until spaghetti is tender.
4) Serve with dipping sauce.

I noticed that letting Sophie cook with me seemed to encourage her to eat the result. I love that cooking gave her some confidence with food!